In 1989, 22-year-old Tracy Edwards organized an all-woman team to enter the Whitbread Race to sail around the world. It had never been done before, and when Edwards served as a cook in her first Whitbread experience, there were only four women among the 230 crew members in the race. But she didn't put together the Maiden team as a stunt, or to prove they could do it. Edwards figured that in an all-female crew, none of the sailors could be singled out as "the woman" on board to be taken less than seriously, as was her personal experience. However, their goals evolved.
Maiden struggled to find financial backing, with executives either disdainful of the endeavor or terrified that their names would forever be attached to a fatal disaster. As Edwards fought to keep the project on track, she was met with a chorus of discouragement and doubt. The sailing world treated Maiden like a foolish pipe dream, and the media covered it like a stunt.
“It just became a battle of wills,” Edwards recalled, positing that if her efforts hadn’t faced such resounding, sexist backlash, she might not have seen the project through: “Yeah, that helped.”
In interview clips from the time, questions range from patronizing to all-out sexist. Edwards and her crew were rarely asked about sailing, underlining the fact that the world didn’t see them as sailors at all—more like an all-female sideshow act. “It gave us great direction, if nothing else. It really focused our minds. Whereas before we were a bit like, you know, let’s just give it a go. This sounds so weird, but it wasn't about women sailing. We just wanted to race around the world on an equal playing field. Then it became about women.”
Read Edwards' story, which is told in the documentary Maiden thirty years after the race.